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A Scream In The Streets (II)-The Guardian/Sonala Olumhense

January 30, 2010
Memo to: Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP); Campaign Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL); Association of Nigerian Professional Bodies; National Association of Nigerian Students; Nigeria Labour Congress; Save Nigeria Group, and The Man in the Street.Three months ago, I urged you to lead the way to a new Nigeria, using the instrument of mass protest.  I argued that, working as one, you could mobilize Nigerians to dig our regressing and under-developing nation out of the soil and out of the past.  
Since that article, on October 26, 2009,

•    President Umaru Yar’Adua, hiding behind poor health, has abandoned his job, and flagrantly violated the constitution he swore to uphold;
•    The entire concept of governance has ground to a halt; we have found out we lack a government, the vacuum being the same as the substance;
•    The absentee Yar'Adua government has failed to meet its vow to provide a measly 6000 Megawatts of electricity power by December 31, 2009; but Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan has promised the end of all electricity problems in 2010;
•    The government has approved N7.06 billion for the construction of a new mansion for the vice-president; and similar sums for new official residences for the President of the Senate and the House of Representatives Speaker, men who live in homes renovated at exorbitant sums only recently; 
•    James Ibori, Nigeria’s best-known governor-looter, a man so wealthy he tried to buy a $20 million private jet, was set free by Yar’Adua’s government of 170 corruption charges in a trial that was more ruthlessly rigged than the election that brought Yar’Adua to Abuja; and
•    Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, a suicidal drifter, has compounded Nigeria’s international image by trying to bomb an American airliner.

All of this, and more, mean that Nigeria has traveled further backwards than when I recommended the street treatment.  In the past month, however, the new Save Nigeria Group (SNG), led by Pastor Tunde Bakare, has called a few successful protests. 

We must be grateful for this, yet I must point out the need for much more.  Yar’Adua is only a symptom of the crisis before us, which is one of a self-serving, non-accountable, irresponsible leadership.  That is what brought us Yar’Adua and his sewage-quality governance.  That is why we must define the challenge clearly, and select our weapons carefully. 

This is even more important now that the world is slowly getting involved.  In an unprecedented statement last week, US Secretary of States Hilary Clinton, said, "There has to be a recognition that, in the last 10 years, a lot of the indicators about quality of life in Nigeria have gone in the wrong direction," Hilary Clinton said a few days ago…The corruption is unbelievable."

Mrs. Clinton’s criticism came only five days after our Foreign Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, left New York, seething with self-justifying anger.  And nobody illustrates the trash-heap in which we are stuck better than Mr. Maduekwe.

First, he was laughed out of London after admitting to the press, without a trace of irony, that he had not seen his boss for two months, meaning the government was on autopilot.

He then arrived in New York, but for what purpose: to meet for a few moments with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to express Nigeria’s concerns over Haiti.  Think about it: much smaller and poorer nations were sending plane-loads of expertise and aid into Haiti, but Maduekwe was in New York to commiserate with the UN, satisfied Nigeria had donated $1 million dollars towards Haiti relief (the same amount as Lagos State!).

Having met Mr. Ban, he then organized a small press conference for a handful of “friendly” reporters.  Unfortunately, his cosy bragging party was crashed by Saharareporters (and I admit disappointment this newspaper-The Guardian- did not include the story in its account of the event).  The “Citizen Reporter” did not specifically ask Maduekwe a question, but lured him into a YouTube moment by equating him with a political whore who merely craved relevance.

Maduekwe took the bait, and almost came to fisticuffs with the reporter.  When he returned to Nigeria later that day, Nigeria’s image as a bumbling and fumbling banana republic was worse than when he left Abuja.  But in addition to UN employees trying to stifle their amusement, Maduekwe also left behind Nigerian unnecessary hotel bills, and diplomats being owed salaries. 

It is to this kind of nonsense that Mrs. Clinton returned five days later when she when she justified her department’s slamming of its doors in our Foreign Minister’s face: “The failure of the Nigerian leadership over many years to respond to the legitimate needs of their own young people; to have a government that promoted a meritocracy; [and] that really understood that democracy can't just be given lip service but has to deliver services to the people, has meant there is a lot of alienation in that country and others," she said.

Maduekwe left other things behind, including the $4.1 million to $16 million in real estate taxes and interest that New York City says the Nigeria Consulate owes for its illegal use of Nigeria House.   That morning, as he tried to fill in his hours in order to give Nigeria Television Authority broadcast material, Maduekwe also conveniently ignored the Nigerians picketing in front of that building.

Like Yar’Adua, Mr. Maduekwe symbolizes the complacency, irresponsibility, mediocrity and corruption in our nation’s highest levels that Nigerians must reject, once and for all.  It is for this purpose we must harness the power of the streets.  Let us invite every man, woman and child to come out and join in a collective, repeated and irrepressible “NO” to the forces that drag us back. 

Let us harness the skin-tingling power that is available in the collective presence of millions or hundreds of thousands of the poor and dispossessed and the scandalized.

Let us harness the hair-raising power represented by hour after hour of moving, talking, singing, sweating humanity rejecting our accumulated malfeasance and the vested interests that seek to perpetuate it.  Even if Yar’Adua were to return today, or Goodluck Jonathan take power, Nigerians need to take back their country.
Can this be done?  Certainly, but only by patriotic groups working together to define both objective and method.  Anyone can grumble into his pillow; Grumblers United cannot be defied. 

Nigerian associations united for change can accomplish the objective, which would be to organize these street protests in sufficient numbers, and places, and repetitions, to demonstrate to those who hold Nigeria back that their era is over. 

Nigerians united for change can make Nigeria uninhabitable to those who have eaten her alive, and who must make reparations and repatriations. 

Nigerians deploying public protest as a weapon can guarantee electoral reform, electoral campaign reform, police reform, true anti-corruption offensive, transparency in government, free education, electricity, security and jobs.  Nigerians deploying public protest as a weapon can persuade Yar’Adua to get his medical treatment at the National Hospital Abuja, or not come back should he leave our shores.   

But let us be in no doubt.  National groups interested in this weapon must understand that as powerful as it is, it entails hard work.  In Nigerian cities, for instance it would be critical to get the logistics right, to make sure each individual who shows up brings friends and relatives to the next.  There must be a reasonable estimate of protesters, and provisions made for such basics as water, snacks, trash collection, and toilets.  The latter can be worked out in advance with interested petrol stations, restaurants, and businesses which will place signs outside. 

How do you get five million people into the streets?  It is committed individuals.  It is bigger groups working with smaller ones, and smaller groups working smaller areas.  It is religious groups inspiring their members to pray with their feet in addition to their knees; Pastor Bakare has demonstrated there is no conflict.  It is student groups joining other Nigerians in the streets, and bringing other students along. 

Getting millions to speak with their feet means using phones and tweets and text messages to wake up relatives and friends; neighbours and colleagues. It is reminding yourself Nigeria is yours, not theirs. It is remembering that a public demonstration shows you believe in something bigger than yourself. It is the progressive press donating advertising space and coverage.  It is the journalist putting his feet where his pen is; the editor deciding to report peace, unless he wants to wait for chaos. 

Nigerians can define the future by walking at national, state, city, and local council level.  The question is: Do we believe in our ability to drive change, insist on change, and accept responsibility for change?  Can we work for change, or would we rather talk about change? 


Can we work together, or would we rather preach separately?

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